Is it ok to preach something that you don’t practice?

This picture is by Alina Sofia. It’s what came up when I typed ‘hypocrite’ into Unsplash.

I once went to a conference where the speaker, a well-known teacher, asked us, “Is it ok to preach something that you don’t practice?” I cannot remember the way he packaged his logic, but he basically said that he wanted to be able to teach everything that was worthwhile.

He wanted to be able to teach good habits he had, as well as good habits that he wanted to have.

I have thought about that a lot. I am reading John Adams by David McCullough, and it is so good. It is noteworthy that many of the Founding Fathers who owned slaves also decried slavery. Jefferson wrote a paragraph in the Declaration of Independence blaming King George III for the institution of slavery, but Jefferson himself chose to own more than 100 slaves (the paragraph on this topic was removed). Washington owned hundreds of slaves and Madison owned more than 100. Ben Franklin had previously sold slaves, and even Boston harbor benefitted significantly from the slave trade. The signers of the Declaration of Independence all evangelized equality, but slavery was an accepted practice, and the Founding Fathers were hypocrites. They preached things that they did not practice.

Yet, I think that the rhetoric guided the country. Had they been perfectly frank, and left out: “We hold these trues to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” because they were slave-owners, what words would Americans have pointed to, in order to finally abolish slavery? What foundational truths could have finally outlawed Jim Crowe [sic], overturned Plessy v. Ferguson [sic], and knocked down Confederate [sic] statues?

Apart from that, when the Founding Fathers/hypocrites said something that they didn’t practice, did it guide them at all? Did they take any steps in the right direction, big or small?

And finally, when *we* mansplain how to be good to other people, do *we* self-examine or benefit at all?

I think history holds both humans and human nature. I think we do benefit, and I think it’s better to preach something that you don’t practice than to abandon the goal of being good. I think that sometimes preaching makes you want to practice.

Thankfully our hero John Adams was honest and never owned slaves. Perhaps we can all avoid this predicament by being just like him.

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